Pubdate: Wed, 13 Feb 2008
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: John Gillis and Chris Lambie, Staff Reporters


Regulatory Body Finds Two Pharmacists Didn'T Properly  Dispense

Two Glace Bay pharmacists will lose their licences for  a week after
an investigation found they dispensed  methadone improperly.

One man died of an overdose of the drug.

And at least three other patients became ill after  taking prescribed
methadone prepared at Ferguson's  Pharmacy Ltd. in 2005.

The Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists launched a probe  of David and
Donald Ferguson after Ron Whalen filed a  complaint.

Mr. Whalen's son, Robert Whalen, 23, died in 2005 of a  methadone

"I'm not very happy at all," Mr. Whalen of Glace Bay  said

"The two of them lose their licence for a week and they  don't even
have to close down the pharmacy. One guy can  go to Florida and the
other guy can run the pharmacy  for a week and then vice versa."

The college's settlement says both men are suspended  for seven days.
"But it doesn't say they both have to  do it together," Mr. Whalen

The college should have closed the pharmacy  permanently, he

He also said he believes there should have been a  criminal
investigation and he has written letters to  the province's Justice
and Health departments, asking  for a public inquiry.

"From what we see so far, I think that maybe they will  step in and do
something," Mr. Whalen said. "But  there's no guarantee of that. It's
a long, slow  process."

Robert Whalen, who was trying to kick an addiction to  OxyContin, had
a prescription for 50 milligrams of  methadone mixed with Tang. He had
83 milligrams of the  drug in his system when he died, his father said.

Methadone is a synthetic opiate commonly prescribed for  people with
addictions to drugs such as oxycodone or  heroin.

It has long-lasting effects that ease the symptoms of  withdrawal and
minimize the extreme highs and lows  associated with illicit drug use,
according to Health  Canada.

The settlement agreement released by the college says  the three
patients who became ill on July 21, 2005,  reported the methadone
solution tasted bad and made  them vomit.

"Robert walked home and the other two walked home," Mr.  Whalen

"One of them only made it as far as Tim Hortons, which  is very close,
a three-or four-minute walk, and got  very deathly sick. The second
person made it to home  and got very deathly sick. Robert went home to
his  apartment and he lay down, and we found him on the  floor three
days later."

His older brother, Hughie, who had come home from  Ontario to get
married, found Robert's body, said their  dad.

"So we had to put on a wedding five days later," Mr.  Whalen said. "It
was a very difficult time."

Robert Whalen was very outgoing and friendly, said his

"Robert wasn't the guy who would be arguing or fighting  with you;
he's the guy who would be carrying on and  laughing. He had a lot of
friends and he enjoyed life  fully."

Robert Whalen had gone through the methadone program  once before, his
father said.

"Then he had a relapse, which can happen to anybody,"  he

The young man, who worked for his family's self-storage  company,
decided to get clean again.

"He was only on the program two weeks when they mixed  the methadone
wrong," Mr. Whalen said.

The toxicology results from Robert's autopsy came back  nine months
after he died, his father said.

During that time Mr. Whalen was thinking his son had  "messed up"
again by taking street drugs along with his  methadone.

"Then we realized that he didn't do anything else. He  just had
methadone in him and that's all," Mr. Whalen  said. "He was trying to
get his life on track, and this  is what happened."

A technician at the pharmacy destroyed the batch of  methadone in
question, contrary to federal guidelines.

The college investigation found Donald Ferguson allowed
non-pharmacists to prepare methadone solutions. He  permitted
technicians to dispense the methadone in his  view but without the
ability to confirm the appropriate  dosage.

The pharmacy also allowed patients to receive their  methadone without
signing for it and kept records in a  book that could be viewed by
other patients, the probe  found.

And the investigation found that Donald Ferguson failed  to label
methadone bottles individually and did not  record the manufacturer or
lot number of methadone used  in solutions.

The college also said pharmacy manager David Ferguson  failed to
develop, maintain and enforce policies and  procedures complying with
the Pharmacy Act of Nova  Scotia.

Along with the seven-day suspensions, the Fergusons  must attend a
day-long seminar at another  methadone-dispensing pharmacy on proper
conduct and  administration, and report to the college registrar  what
they have learned and what changes they intend to  make. Each of them
must also pay about $5,000 toward  the cost of the

OxyContin, a powerful painkiller, is a popular street  drug in the
Glace Bay area, Mr. Whalen said.

"You try it four or five times and you're addicted," he

"And it's a very difficult thing to get off. It's as  hard as getting
off cocaine. You go through  withdrawals. . . . All of a sudden,
within a week  you're not wanting to do it anymore to get stoned;
you're wanting it because you need it just to survive."

There should be a proper clinic in Glace Bay to  distribute methadone,
which is available in several  local pharmacies, he said.

"I worry about other kids," Mr. Whalen said.

"I'm not knocking down the program in any way. It can  help people.
What we are knocking down is it's not  being run right. The government
just hasn't put money  into it. It shouldn't be in the drugstores. It
should  be in a clinic and run correctly."
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